Swollen Lymph Nodes In Children: Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment

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Lymph nodes are kidney-shaped organs in the neck, underarms, groin, chest, and abdomen. They are a part of the immune system and play an important role in filtering the blood and killing bacteria and viruses. Swollen lymph nodes or lymphadenopathy is common in childhood and may occur due to bacterial or viral infections, such as colds, flu, or strep throat (1).

Read this post to learn about the causes, symptoms, complications, diagnosis, and treatment of swollen lymph nodes in children.

Causes Of Swollen Lymph Nodes In Children

The following are the common causes of lymphadenopathy in children (2)(3)(4)(5):

  • Respiratory infections
  • Viral throat infections
  • Bacterial throat infections, such as strep
  • Viral infections, such as mononucleosis and chickenpox
  • Tooth decay or abscess
  • Abrasions, burns, or insect bites
  • Scalp infections
  • Infections caused by shaving
  • Skin infections, such as eczema, impetigo, poison ivy, and athlete’s foot
  • Flu
  • Mouth sores
  • Ear infections
  • Fungal infections
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Some cancers such as Hodgkin’s
  • Juvenile arthritis and some other joint conditions

Symptoms Of Swollen Lymph Nodes In Children

The most common symptoms of swollen lymph nodes are (1)

  • Lumps in the affected lymph node areas, commonly the sides or back of the neck
  • Pain or soreness in the affected area
  • Redness or warmth in the affected area
  • Lymph nodes may be swollen several centimeters.

Depending on the underlying pathology, the following symptoms may also be seen:

  • Fever
  • Respiratory issues, such as sore throat, congestion, and cough
  • Decreased appetite
  • Body pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Rash

Complications Of Swollen Lymph Nodes In Children

Swollen lymph nodes are the body’s natural response to infections and some diseases. However, ignoring the condition may delay the treatment of a serious underlying disease or infection (1).

While swollen lymph nodes signify a problem and are not a problem themselves, the following complications may rarely occur (3).

  • May remain swollen or firm long after the infection has cleared up
  • May hamper the other functions of the body
  • Might break open and ooze pus

Signs You Need To See A Doctor

Contact your healthcare provider if you notice the following symptoms (1)(6):

  • The child develops a fever or a seizure accompanying it
  • Painful swollen lymph nodes
  • Lymph nodes that continue to grow or remain the same size beyond two weeks
  • A large lymph node that is firm to touch
  • Abnormal breathing sounds or the child complains of inability to breathe comfortably

Diagnosing Swollen Lymph Nodes In Children

The diagnosis of swollen lymph nodes begins with a physical examination of the enlarged lymph nodes’ size and location. Further, the doctor will ask the following (1)(3):

  • A detailed medical history of the child
  • For how many days the child has been exhibiting these symptoms
  • Whether the child has been around children with strep throat
  • Whether the child has consumed any unusual food or beverages, especially unpasteurized dairy products
  • Whether the child has been around a young cat as a cat’s scratch can cause a mild condition called cat scratch disease characterized by enlarged lymph nodes.

After examining these details, the doctor might refer the child to a specialist and prescribe some of these diagnostic tests:

  1. Lab tests: A complete blood count (CBC) might be performed to check the red and white blood cells and platelets. Urine tests and tests to rule out tuberculosis might be performed.
  1. Imaging tests: These include chest X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs to check for enlarged lymph nodes or other underlying conditions.
  1. Lymph node biopsy: A surgeon may perform a biopsy to test the samples of the enlarged lymph nodes for different causes of enlargement. The child may be further referred to hematologists and oncologists.

Treatment For Swollen Lymph Nodes In Children

In most cases, no intervention is needed for swollen lymph nodes. When required, the treatment depends on the underlying cause. It can be done at home for mild cases, while some children may need medications to manage it. Rarely, surgical intervention may be needed (3)(6).

1. Homecare

  • Ensure plenty of rest, ample hydration, and good nutrition.
  • Use cold or warm compresses to relieve pain or tenderness.
  • Give safe pain relief medications, such as acetaminophen, under the doctor’s advice. Aspirin should be avoided until the age of 20.

2. Medications

  • The child might need antibiotics or anti-tuberculosis medicines for swelling caused by bacterial infections or tuberculosis.
  • The doctor might prescribe further medication based on the underlying condition.

3. Surgery

  • When required, surgical intervention might be suggested to remove the swollen lymph node.
  • A pediatric surgeon might suggest incision and drainage for the removal of the lymph nodes.

Contact your child’s healthcare provider if you notice any swelling or lumps in the lymph node locations, and take pictures of the enlarged lymph nodes every day to track their growth. In many cases, symptoms subside with home care. However, it is recommended to take an expert opinion as early intervention can help the symptoms subside sooner.


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Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more